Even those who scorn Boris Johnson want to hear what he has to say. So although he rose to deliver his personal statement at 14.56, fully two hours after Prime Minister’s Questions, the benches around him, and even the benches opposite, were quite respectably full.
The former Foreign Secretary proceeded to draw a dismal contrast between the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech in January of last year, and the Chequers proposals: “it is as though a fog of self-doubt has descended.”
Instead of trying over the last 18 months to attain the Lancaster House goals, “we dithered and we burned through our negotiating capital”.
The tone was sombre. It was, he implied, the British negotiators who are being irresponsible. But unlike Sir Geoffrey Howe, who delivered the most devastating resignation statement of modern times, Johnson did not have the Prime Minister in his sights, or not directly.
I remember going out into the press gallery after Howe’s statement, feeling shocked by its ferocity, and exchanging appalled glances with other supporters of Margaret Thatcher.
She and Howe had stood shoulder to shoulder in the grim days of the early 1980s, when they defied conventional economic opinion and steered into the eye of the storm.
May and Johnson do not share that long history of close comradeship maintained under under heavy fire. He has not been at her side during the development of a doctrine called Mayism.
Nor has Johnson been treated with the breathtaking rudeness with which, in the latter years of her prime ministership, Thatcher treated Howe.
And far from accusing the Prime Minister of being too intransigent in her dealings with Brussels, Johnson was suggesting she has been too weak.
But his most easily identifiable target in this statement was the Chancellor, Philip Hammond. Johnson remarked, with scathing irony, that when asked to identify the biggest opportunity offered by Brexit, the Chancellor had replied, “after some thought”, that it is “regulatory innovation”.
Yet the Chequers agreement does not permit such innovation for goods and agri-foods: “We are volunteering for economic vassalage.” We will get “Brexit in name only”.
But like some latter-day Ulysses, in Tennyson’s great poem of that name, Johnson insisted that “‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world”.
The “glorious vision of Lancaster House” can still be attained. We need not consign ourselves to “the miserable permanent limbo of Chequers”.
And “if the Prime Minister can fix that vision once more before us”, she can deliver a great Brexit for Britain.
His listeners know perfectly well that May cannot do that. Many of them hope another leader might be able to conjure that vision.
And here was the lucid, sober, former leader of the Leave campaign and former Foreign Secretary, assuring them that he could be that leader.
The Conservative Party now has a choice, and will continue to have one as long as Johnson maintains this level of lucidity and sobriety. The Brexit negotiation could be led in a different way, by someone who believes in a better outcome.